We had been sitting silently for a while looking at the tide coming in before he spoke. “I don’t relish eating fish. It’s a sin to kill,” he said with a gravitas reminding me of moral science classes. “…if we don’t net it someone else will. Besides, only those fish not strong enough to evade our trap get caught.” His monologue now had an echo of Darwinism and had me glancing at him with a degree of amusement and admiration. The boy did know a thing or two about the survival of the fittest. I had seen him at work trying to beat competition from other little challengers. They all had tried but hadn’t pushed hard enough. They might have, I presumed, had this been a beach in
About four hours from
The 173-km route from
Mandarmani is petite and placid. Nonetheless it has a distinction to flaunt, if Google search is to be believed, of being Asia’s third longest and
During the duration of our stay the seascape remained tepid, neither lit by golden skies nor by the mesmerising glows of dusk which add shimmer to the waves. It alternated between an overcast grey and pale blue, with a blaze of luminous orange making an appearance once briefly. The painterly element apart, the sea shares a special relationship with the sky. They seem to meet yet never do. Both appear limited by horizons yet remain boundless. It’s this infinity that the quietude of Mandarmani enhances, with the unruffled waters adding character to it.
More than often you are likely to be the only person on the beach at Mandarmani, so quiet is it for better part of the day. Once in a while an Ambassador races past or a Trax-taxi comes in loaded with local passengers. At other times the brightly-painted indigenous motorized cycle carts will honk on seeing vacationers and offer a ride up and down the beach, which is quite a splendid option if you haven’t come by your transport. A few thatch-roofed shacks selling either pretty souvenirs or offering meals with fish of choice under striped umbrellas are the other spots of action. On weekends, we were told, tourists do flock but the count is nowhere close to cousin Digha which remains the numero uno for the majority
Tourist days apart, Mandarmani does come to life in the morning and evening hours when fishermen return or set off for the deep sea in their trawlers. Activity builds up when the catch comes in which largely is an inch-sized silver-coloured fish, that’s dried for use as manure or in preparing fish bait, a major means of livelihood for the population in Dadanpatrabar. On other occasions the variety of fish that netted is sold in markets around, some of it playfully so by Wasimuddin and his gang of imps.
There is, though, one perennial occupant of the beach: the army of red crabs. In such abundance do they dart around that I mistook them for a red canvas sheet lying sprawled on the beach’s western end, an area they prefer inhabiting. Unexpectedly, it’s these crustaceans that have played a part in contributing to the name of the place. According to legend, the population of crabs sunning themselves on the beach resembled fields of the mandar flower (a species of red hibiscus) leading locals to poetically refer to the area as ‘Mandarboni’ that over time has shaped into present day Mandarmani, which I had incorrectly assumed to be a dedication to a temple.
Our weekend in Mandarmani was a lot about lessons in nothingness. Of calm mornings, lazy and balmy evenings. Of long walks in gentle waters, collecting sea shells from the unspoilt seashore and watching sail-boats ride the waves. The resort tried wooing us with a plethora of organised games and folk-craft workshops which somehow felt too much of an effort to exert for the mind that preferred being surrounded by the tranquility of the coast.
We hoped the place stayed the way it was — shy and small. Looking at the hotel expansion on the cards tomorrow seems all set to change. Till then, the sage-speak of a young man by the sea will probably continue to outdo his fish-mongering skills.
AIR: Nearest airport is at Kolkata, 173 km away
RAIL: The nearest train station is at Contai
ROAD: Mandarmani is best reached by road via NH 6. Try and move early if coming from
When to go:
Round the year. Best in winters.
Stick to food at the hotels. Beach shacks do offer fresh fish but hygiene is questionable.
Seashell bric-a-brac sold at the beach kiosks make for interesting buys. The shop at Sana Beach Resort has an assortment of sparkling quality objects.
Daily activities at the fishing settlements on both ends of the beach.